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Cluster feeding your baby: an expert weighs in

Meet our expert

Physician Assistant, internationally board-certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and co-founder of Lactation Central, Chaya Lighten.

What is cluster feeding?

Cluster feeding is when your baby feeds closer together at specific times in the day and then has longer stretches where they don’t feed.  It often feels like you’ve just clipped up your top and your sweet kiddo is hungry again, and you’re back to watching reruns until baby has her fill.

Is cluster feeding normal?

From the experts

“There are many times when cluster feeding can be 'normal.’ For instance, in a primipara, or first-time mom, the mature milk will often come in slightly later than in a mother that has later-order children. Often, her baby will cluster in the first couple of days — this feeding pattern has a purpose here — to induce milk supply.”

- Chaya Lighten, MHA, RPA-C, IBCLC

Common causes of cluster feeding

  • Developmental leap or milestone
  • Growth spurt

Tip: Some moms initiate cluster feeding to increase milk supply or gain some longer stretches at night with less feedings and full bellies.

5 ways to master cluster feeding 

Establishing a cluster-feeding schedule will help ensure baby gets adequate nourishment and comfort without sacrificing anyone’s sleep or sanity — including your own. Even though cluster feeding is common, the constant feeding can be difficult to keep up with.

  1. Start by spacing daytime feeds about three hours apart
  2. In the late afternoon, switch to feedings two hours apart to amp up baby’s intake
  3. Before the last pre-bedtime feed, slip baby into gently weighted Zen Sleepwear to help further extending baby’s next stretch of sleep
  4. Just before you head to bed, gently rouse baby for a dream feed — it may be just what she needs to skip that 2 a.m. session
  5. Record why and when your baby is cluster feeding — for example, hunger or comfort, so you can begin creating a schedule on your terms in anticipation of their needs. 

Mom cluster feeding baby in a Zen Sack

    Common questions for new parents 

    Q: Is it only for newborns?

    A: Newborns are definitely known for cluster feeding, but the same pattern may repeat as baby reaches growth spurts at 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months. 

    But, as Lighten likes to say, “Babies don’t read the textbooks, so they can have a spurt at any time!” 

    An ear infection or tummy ache could also kick off an unexpected bout of cluster feeding.

    Q: Will cluster feeding increase my supply?

    A: It could! 

    Your body is quite magical in that it takes its cues straight from your baby. It’s all about supply and demand — ideally, the more your baby nurses, the more your body ramps up production.

    Lighten has seen this call-and-response process in action.

    From the experts

    “I often get a message from a happy mom that after a day or so of cluster feeding, their supply has increased! You may have heard of ‘power pumping.’ I am not sure where this term originated but the clustering of pumping is meant to simulate a baby going through such a growth spurt and can help increase supply.”

    - Chaya Lighten, MHA, RPA-C, IBCLC

    Q: Does cluster feeding mean my baby isn’t getting enough milk?

    A: As parents, one of our biggest concerns is our kiddo going hungry. After all, an infant can’t exactly use words to ask for a second helping, and we’re often left guessing.

    Clustering can certainly mean that your baby is compensating for a low transfer volume by increasing frequency at the breast,” explains Lighten. “If it is occurring for long periods of time, not consistent with an expected growth spurt, that is certainly a red flag.

    If you suspect an issue, consult with your pediatrician or an experienced lactation expert like Lighten. They can help you identify any underlying concerns such as a tongue or lip tie or undersupply.

    Otherwise, know that your breast-happy baby is doing just what he or she should be doing — eating well, growing and enjoying your signature mama snuggles.

    Aliste Williams

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